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every other man

The light outside the main entrance to our building has gone out again. The heavy metal door swings wide as I pull a hat down over my ears. In the darkness there are maybe twenty teenagers standing still. My boot scrapes across the ground, slowing down. Their hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, I look for a space to pass between them. A voice appears, saying hello in English, with an obvious accent. I am all instinct, sayingpivyet as I pass, not looking back, wondering who said this. There was a boy that was an extra in Blackbetty that lives in our building, but he is too young, too short for it to have been him.

I look back, navigating the puddles in the street. It does not make any sense.

N is with V, making their way home. I meet them, pulling V into my arms as she chatters about her day, about dry leaves and princesses, about her grandmother's apartment and what she ate there. We are going back home, and I try to explain the odd collection that stands outside. As we pass th…

mercy

We go to a little store by us, that has no real name just the one everyone calls it - the "long store". It is a Soviet one, with little counters where you can buy different categories of food, paying individually at each one. We stand at the meat one, so I can buy a piece of pork shoulder. An old lady picks coins from her purse in slow, methodical movements as she pays for a tiny chunk of beef. The woman behind the counter juts her chin at me. I slide towards the pork trays, pointing at the piece I want.

"How big?" She asks me.
I point again at the one I want.
She is shoving her arm into a box behind the counter, pulling out another piece. It is a lump of meat in a cloudy plastic bag, sagging with pink blood.
"Fresh!" She announces to me in a big voice, waving it in the air. "And juicy!"
I shake my head no.
"Too big?" She asks, and goes back to the box.
I point once again at the piece I want.
"This one, just this one." I tell her.
"Oh, Gospodi." She blurts out, staring at me. ("Oh, god" or "Oh God have mercy.")

I stand there. E is looking up at me, shrugging her shoulders.

The woman eventually wraps up the pice I have been asking for the whole time, slapping it hard on the scale. I pay, and she throws my change at me, almost to the floor.

Outside, E's empty lunchbox thumps against her leg.

We walk in silence, even in the elevator.




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